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PPP, The Pandemic, and The Opportunity

by Oscar Alvarez

3 March 2021

Business Consulting

PPP, The Pandemic, and The Opportunity

One pandemic year and two rounds of PPP later, we can see with clarity where the light is shining. But not all survived.

Chances are that you know someone or a business that did not make it. Local news outlets are filled with lists of restaurants that closed their doors permanently. The sight of empty commercial property is now a familiar scene; two PPP rounds didn't save those businesses. In either case, here we are, standing at the edge and ready to leave behind a year full of grief for many, from lost lives to shuttered business and indefinitely postponed personal and family plans.

From the beginning, the PPP intention was to save businesses from collapsing, allow employees to be laid off, and have a place to come back to when the conditions would permit it. The measure of success from each stimulus bill is not how many employees could stay in their jobs but how many furloughed individuals can return to their previous positions. This metric was key to congress's purpose, but I firmly believe the PPP objective was lost in the tumultuous rollout and the subsequent race to be spent down and eventually forgiven.

If your business has not received the second PPP round or funds have not been spent, there is still an opportunity to revisit the original purpose and better strategize to survive the amount of time necessary before reaching economic stability.

Your business's survival will allow you to recall talent and customers previously thought to be lost. Think of PPP as the token that allowed you to pause and to weather the storm.

Where do we go from here?

by Oscar Alvarez

21 Jan 2021

Business Consulting

The year 2020 set the bar so low that 2021 will virtually look like a Blockbuster doesn't matter what happens. But before the new year rolls in, a word of wisdom: 2021 will not be on autopilot.

For anyone owning a business or planning on opening one soon, there is a lot of work to do to make this upcoming year the best of our lives. The most pressing questions I hear from business owners are: when to kick into gear, and what specific steps we need to take?

Here is my take:

Stop panicking.
Yes, many of us will have some degree of PTSD for years to come. Just the sight of someone wearing a mask or the prospect of being confined to our homes will trigger memories of this tumultuous time. So, the first thing to do will be to talk it out. I am saying that you must first take care of yourself before you take care of your business. For some, this will be easier than others, according to how many setbacks you've experienced. If you lost a loved one or anyone close to your relationship circle, getting over this absurd period will be a complex and painful undertaking. No amount of taking it out will bring a wife, husband, child, or friend back, but if we are to move forward constructively, we must give ourselves a chance to recover emotionally.

Your business evolved.
Depending on how long you had owned your business, you might have had the business cycle down. Before this whole mess, products or services offered by your business were clearly defined, you knew your customer or clients, and your suppliers or talent were in place in hopes of growth, stability, or both. Less than a year later, we have collectively gone through a transformation that has forced us to rethink what we do and how we do it. In essence, although businesses naturally evolve, the pandemic accelerated the pace at which changes occurred and compressed the change we expect to see in a business to a period too short for comfort. Recognizing this change and adapting to the new business environment will become more manageable than those stuck in pre-pandemic mode.

Priorities changed.
For some time now, we have recognized that dollars are not the only motivator of our workforce; as you already know, the work environment, flexibility, opportunity, and personal development have been steadily increasing in importance. Many of these were goals, aspirations we had, and now they have been molded into an expectation. These new expectations should prompt us to reconsider what we offer to our employees to encourage loyalty and retention, ignore them, and we could end up in an unproductive cycle of turnover and employee dissatisfaction.

At the same time, we perceived our time with family and friends as more valuable than ever before, redefining our entrepreneurial concepts to tilt the scales in favor of quality time and away from profit-only goals.

Ditch the old, accept the new.
For some, adapting to new business trends is obvious and even natural. But for most of us, we will need help with making the case that even as your business was performing well at the beginning of 2020, there will be many new competitors replacing those who could stay afloat. These new businesses will be owned by a younger generation of entrepreneurs with progressive ideas and better adaptability to technology changes. Adapt by acquiring talent that can help you navigate the fast-changing world.

Frankly, our communities have grown and matured, like lessons rooted in thought love; we are better now than just a few months ago. We are different as individuals, and in business, we have challenges that we weren't aware of recently. Recognize this as a first step to recovery; the size of the obstacles ahead will be determined by our willingness to adapt.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online: What's the difference?

by Oscar Alvarez

9 Dec 2020

Product Comparison

Whatever you are starting a new business or you are established, the time will come when you will have to decide how you want to track your finances. There is a myriad of accounting software out there that can meet your financial tracking needs, and the truth is that most of it will perform essential accounting functions just fine.

If you have narrowed your search to Intuit's QuickBooks, you will be deciding whether to use the Desktop or the online version; so, what's the difference?

A QuickBooks ProAdvisor can help you decide what's best for you; understanding the differences is essential. You should know the capabilities and limitations of each option. Note that we are only looking at the software without any add-ons such as payroll, inventory management, pay bills online, etc.

First, let's talk about cost.

QuickBooks Desktop version costs $399.99 for the Pro Plus 2021 to $649.99 for the Premier 2021. This version runs installed on your computer. These are one-time costs for a single user. You will be able to run as many companies as you wish per license, and you will need to purchase a separate license for each user if the company's books are accessed simultaneously. Intuit releases free updates regularly, and new versions in any subsequent years will carry an upgrade cost, which tends to change year after year.

QuickBooks Online version costs from $15 per month ($180/year) for the Self-Employed version to $150 per month ($1,800/year) for the Advanced version; there are four versions. These are monthly costs for one user for the Self-Employed version to 25 users for the Advanced version and only one company per license. Updates are seamless as no software needs to be downloaded to your computer, and your books are accessed via any browser. For QB Online usage limits, visit this article for additional information.

Users

If you are the only user and only run one company, installing the QB Desktop to your personal computer might be what's right for you. For multiple users needing access from various locations, QB Online will work better as there will be no networking setup. All users can use any internet browser already installed on their computers.

Capability

Intuit has numerous apps that can connect to both QB Desktop and Online versions. Apps will help you accomplish a specific task such as recurring billing, importing inventory counts, or linking to specialized software for property management or CRM, and so much more. After many years of using both versions of QB, we have noticed the Online version has better connectivity to apps than the Desktop version; however, most apps will work seamlessly on both versions with a little technical knowledge.

These are the QuickBooks basics when choosing between the Desktop and the Online versions; depending on your business's specific structure and accounting needs, there will be more to consider.

This pandemic will be over soon.

by Oscar Alvarez

18 Nov 2020

Work-Life

The current pandemic crisis has an expiration date, thanks to the research and innovation of many pharmaceutical companies and the rigorous process set forth by the US Food and Drug Administration. But before we can get back to normal, during the next few months, we will go through the worse of the pandemic. By most estimates, the third wave of infections, which started at the beginning of November, will last at least until mid-January. The factors contributing to the increase in confirmed cases are the Holidays, large gatherings such as protests, college students returning home, and pandemic fatigue. Deaths from Covid are likely to double by mid-January, expect about 400,000 total dead.

In the last few days, we got good news from some pharmaceutical companies. A vaccine has been developed and will be ready for distribution. Currently, there are over 30 vaccines under development (1), many of them in phase 3 trials, and at least one very close to become the first Covid FDA approved vaccine (2). However, there are many challenges before a vaccine can be effectively distributed. The necessary logistics to bring immunization to millions of people are incredibly daunting, in addition to the ethical question of who should get the vaccine first. Furthermore, we need to trust that whichever vaccine comes to market first is one we can trust.

I do not doubt that we will get through this; the year 2020 has been one that will be present in our memories and our history books for ages. We trust that in the end, we as humanity will have survived yet another tragedy, that the loss and suffering of our loved ones will guide us in the future to prevent affliction to others. We also trust that we will emerge stronger and much more appreciative of our existence.

(1) World Health Organization: Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines. https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines

(2) https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/covid-19-vaccines

Relax. America's resilience is on full display.

by Oscar Alvarez

12 Nov 2020

best practices

Elections are over (mostly), and with that, we are hoping to have a little breather and relax. It was a tumultuous time, and many things happened that will go down in history books for future generations to learn and be amused by all of this year's events. What a great time to be alive!

What now, you asked? For the most part, we need to wait and see. At the same time, this is an excellent opportunity to do some business housekeeping. There are some things businesses will need to start worrying about very soon: 1099s, IRS forms, tax filings, etc. If you are like most business, with few exemptions, you are still going through a period of uncertainty, low business activity, and making tough choices to ensure your survival. With 2020 soon coming to an end, combined with the current economic downturn, is an opportunity to evaluate our business processes. We need to find efficiencies where we didn't think it was possible to do better, open up new markets, and plan to capture a broader customer range.

The time you invest in planning today will have great returns soon. To be clear, we are not yet out of the woods when it comes to COVID. With recent announcements by pharmaceutical companies that a vaccine is likely to be ready for mass distribution by the first quarter of 2021, we can anticipate an accelerated recovery, which should start picking up steam soon.

When we get the green light to go out and be consumers again, there will be a flood of returning and new customers at our doors. Restaurants will be full, bars will spill people over at their doors, and movie theaters will return to their former glory.

So, review your business processes, observe the market and consumer behaviors that can give you a competitive edge, and looks forward to an America that will return to normal sooner than we anticipated.

A Paperless Dream

by Oscar Alvarez

5 Nov 2020

Business Trends

When email went mainstream, we were all promised paper would become obsolete and that conventional mail had its days counted. Thirty years later, our printers are working just as hard as in 1990, and our paper piles continue to grow, threatening to take over all of our desks' real state. Despite the best effort of schools, governments, and businesses to move towards a genuinely paperless word, little progress has been achieved. And then, a pandemic happened.

A letter-size paper sheet in 8 pts type wouldn't be enough to list how the pandemic has reshaped our lives, but soon, you might find yourself not needing to acquire more dead trees.

I introduce you to: THE PAPERLESS AGE.

To be clear, I am not advocating for a world in which everything is digital; the truth is, we will need some paper for at least another decade or so. But the recent changes to our habits have been the realization that we don't necessarily need to print, take notes, or journal with traditional pen and paper. Furthermore, many of us no longer have to be in the office, making it slightly challenging to send your documents to a bizhub.

We are also doing away with job applications, bulletin boards, paper contracts, and so much more. As they have proven it is enforceable in courts, we are increasingly confident with digital signatures, fueling the paperless trend. Additionally, more retail stores are either taking all our orders online or providing us with electronic receipts. I can list many more examples, but you get my point.

The economic benefits of a mostly paperless office are great for many businesses; depending on your products or services, the efficiencies that come with less paper can translate into more retained earnings and possibly more sales.

The scales are tilting in favor of the digital world; we are all naturally gravitating towards it; our current reality has accelerated the number of digital choices we make today. It is futile to resist.

As many office workers return to the office, expect some regression when it comes to paper use. But rest assured, we have made progress, whether voluntarily or not, towards our Paperless Dream.

The Multidisciplinary Remote Worker

Shared by Oscar Alvarez

26 Oct 2020

Work Life Harmony

There are many lessons we have collectively learned during this pandemic: we don't need to commute as much as we thought, that meeting that should have been an email now is a zoom call, we can be as productive away from the office as we are from home, and that it is ok to be casual while on a conference call (to a limit). The workforce landscape is different now than it was just a few short months ago; we have evolved in less than a year to what we would have taken perhaps a decade. Another important tidbit is that most of these changes will be permanent for some of us. The reshaping of what it means to work from home (WFH) is creating new patterns that, when correctly leveraged, can position anyone for great success.

The pros of working from home are long; even some of the things we thought weren't a perk from the beginning are now things we appreciate, such as not having all the distractions we so unconsciously had been getting accustomed to having. But the most significant change from the office to working from home has been the lack of a daily commute. According to the US Census Bureau, East Stroudsburg, PA average one-way commute is about 38.6 minutes, the largest average in the US, and 15.4 in Walla Walla, WA, which is the lowest. That's an overall average of 27 minutes for most of us, or 46.8 hours per year spent getting to work and back, each.

That's right, that's 46 hours of our lives we just got back, and that's just the beginning. We also need to consider that the online shopping trend has accelerated. Many of us ordered essential items online for the first time, and we discovered the convenience of not having to visit a grocery store or any other store.

The minutes are adding up into hours, the extra time we suddenly now have. Time we didn't realize we were losing each day. And this brings me to this big question: what are we doing with our newly found abundance of time?

If you are the chronic "I am busy" type of person, this is undoubtedly hellish. The idleness can feel eternal if time has not been repurposed and possibly make you feel as if you are slacking.

On a related note, take stock of how much more efficient you are at getting your job done. Trim the social media, online shopping, tech troubleshooting, and snack trips, and you can undoubtedly realize how much more efficient you have become; this is different than having discipline, but more efficient nevertheless.

To all of this, add one more ingredient: "Flexible Work Schedule (FWS)." And now, we have a new formula brought to you courtesy of the complete reshaping of our work habits: WFH + FWS = Opportunity for additional income.

When I think of additional income, I am not necessarily pointing you in the direction of a new job. Although many will begin trending in that direction, I am more inclined to send you down the entrepreneurial path. That business you have so deliberately have put off because you didn't have the time is now more achievable than ever before.

With this, a perfect combination of circumstances arises in which everyone benefits, including employers looking for part-time or on-demand help. I hope that what you do with your time question transforms into what you will do with all the money?

Source: https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/interactive/travel-time.html

The Pandemic as an Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

by Oscar Alvarez

7 Sept 2020

Entrepreneurialism

In the blink of an eye, life has changed. The coronavirus pandemic has touched the lives of nearly all humans on the planet, and it is reshaping everything we do, from how we interact with one another to how we plan our futures. Every life lost to this capricious disease is a story that will go on untold, which is a tragic consequence of our fragility.

Amid so much change, an entrepreneur knows no barrier to innovation. An entrepreneur knows opportunities are at every turn, as unpredictable as it may be, and an entrepreneur identifies the emergent moments in which we can turn adversity into a collection of positive developments to propel us out of a difficult time.

Citing the National Bureau of Economic Research, Axios points to the number of businesses lost between February and April this year and at the beginning of the pandemic. Per Axios Visuals, about 3.3 million businesses closed their doors. With these closures, many nondirect and supporting jobs also disappeared. These lost jobs comprise restaurants that provided meals for workers, real estate brokers, bookkeepers, consultants, and so on.

Despite the bad news, we know our economy goes in cycles, and this current period is one of the lowest periods in our history. This time, however, the economic downturn is not caused by the financial sector or bad policy. Simply put, these businesses are forced to close by the abrupt absence of economic activity. Although recovery will likely prove to be slow, lost jobs will return and companies will be better prepared for the unforeseen. With this, the gig worker, contractor, and many full-time employees will get their jobs back. And as we begin the upswing, entrepreneurs must seize the opportunity and begin to prepare.

If you have been hesitant about starting a new business, this may be the opportunity you have been waiting for. Combined with the possibility of also being out of a job, the perfect storm has formed. Opportunity is knocking at your door.

Working from home, how to do it right. 5 steps we all must take.

by Oscar Alvarez

19 Aug 2020

Work - Life Harmony

If you had told me this past January that most of us in the service industry would be working from home, I would have laughed nearly uncontrollably—not at you, of course, but at the notion that most of us would buy into the idea of zero commutes, no fixed lunch breaks, and no 5 p.m. rush hour. Here we are now, wondering how the world turned upside down and pausing for a brief moment to blink into the new set of realities many of us are unfamiliar with.

The first of many firsts, we were sent with our laptops to work from home, and our bosses cynically expected us to perform just the same or better. But aside from our familiar computer screen, we were sent with almost no training, tools, or home office know-how basics.

We heard stories about others already working from home. Glamorous images of ourselves often appeared in our imagination: sitting by the pool typing away on our computers, on the porch sipping a cup of coffee dressed only on the top half, or on the phone while running on our oft-neglected treadmill. But on our first day, we woke up from the dreamy working-from-home fantasy to a set of unexpected circumstances. The charming images vanished in the reality of a new working environment we were ill-prepared for.

To begin with, there are a few essential human elements that were snapped away in an instant. If we were lucky, we had experienced a social connection with our co-workers, a sense of collaboration, and instant feedback from those around us. At home, we began to wonder why we were not enjoying our home workplace the way we imagined.

Months have passed, and we have settled into a routine yet still unguided. We might have read a few articles about the best home office setup, and undoubtedly you have stumbled into “the best 25 items you need to buy to be more productive while working from home” and bought a few. To help you cope with the new remote work environment, follow these five steps as a short guide to rediscover and reinvent how we perform our jobs by reconnecting with ourselves.

Step 1

We know the first step to solving a problem is recognizing you have one. Just the same, realize we are untrained, we are novices, we are rookies at doing this work-from-home routine, in which we find ourselves knee-deep by circumstances we never subscribed to. In doing so, we come to terms that we are not creatures of solitude, that the office water cooler is now a socializing symbol of the days we used to interact, communicate, and collaborate. With that, we can begin to enter the territory in light of our inexperience, without unrealistic expectations of charming images sold to us by getting-rich-quick-sales schemes and “some assembly required” furniture ads.

Step 2

Whether you live in a studio or a large home, there is space within your home, and you must claim as your own that no one should be allowed to enter. This no-touch-or-else zone is your domain. Go savage if need be, but be sure that everyone knows where your corner stands. By doing so, and without physical barriers, you will create a mental map of where business happens, and your mind can focus.

“To begin with, there are a few essential human elements that were snapped away in an instant. If we were lucky, we had experienced a social connection with our co-workers, a sense of collaboration, and instant feedback from those around us. At home, we began to wonder why we were not enjoying our home workplace the way we imagined.”

Step 3

If you didn’t like the wallpaper at your old office, you’re in luck—you don’t have to spend hours staring at it anymore. However, some elements were just right. Find those feel-good items and recreate them in your corner. Of course, if the best part of the office was a great view, it may not be possible to recreate it. In such a case, a picture frame will do. Imagine yourself sitting at your old office where everything was within reach. Did you have a printer? A stapler? Perhaps a second screen? The more you feel at like you are at work, the better you will focus.

Step 4

I don’t believe in schedules at home. It is impractical to pretend we can focus for hours at a time in an environment full of distractions. If the type of job you perform allows it, work in intensely focused short periods: set a target task to complete, and charge towards it untethered. I call these “work bubbles” because while you are in them, your work must consist only of you and your desire to complete the task. In the bubble, the external world becomes secondary, and your thoughts, concentration, and energy are guided by the prospect of the satisfaction of having completed your work.

Step 5

When the work is done, be done. Working from home has created a set of habits we will later regret. Always being on, ready, and available is a trend we find ourselves feeding into. Once we get caught in the cycle of an always-at-work mindset, we will spiral into feelings we would rather not experience. Although a set work schedule is impractical, a defined end of your workday is critical. I am more concerned with officially declaring an end to your workday than having a set time to end it.

Until recently, saying goodbye to peers for the day, getting on the elevator, and commuting home has been the transition routine that signals our brains to stop thinking about work. We don’t have that luxury anymore; we must create a simplified routine that can create the same signals to let us know our workday is over. It could be as simple as playing the same song each day, walking around the block, or taking time to prepare dinner or have a drink. Whatever you do, I believe this is the most critical part of working from home, because we shouldn’t be prisoners of our own professional skills and careers.

The immediate future is uncertain in ways it has never been, and many of us are navigating uncharted waters in a sea of new experiences. Hopefully, we will return to our offices with a greater appreciation of our corners. Our boundaries will be better defined. Our daily interactions will be more appreciative and meaningful, and we will begin to live with a better self-understanding.

President Trump's payroll tax cut? It's actually a deferral.

Compiled by Oscar Alvarez

11 Aug 2020

Tax cut vs. tax deferral

On August 8th, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order authorizing a payroll tax holiday. Bankrate.com and fidelity.com have published several articles explaining the difference between a tax cut and a tax deferral, see below for links to these articles.

Rather than a tax cut, the president’s order is actually a deferral of those payroll taxes Americans pay to support Social Security. Here’s the difference and why it matters.

Tax cut vs. tax deferral

President Trump’s directive will have the Department of Treasury defer the 6.2 percent Social Security tax paid by American workers, though the order will apply only to those making less than $4,000 in biweekly salary, about $104,000 a year. The deferral would last from September 1, 2020 until the end of the year. The tax deferral applies only to working Americans, not the unemployed.

Payroll tax is normally collected through your employer, who deducts it automatically from each check. So, the move would see working Americans take home more pay during the deferral period. However, the taxes would still be due later — a key difference between an actual tax cut and a deferral.

Trump has suggested that, if re-elected in November, he would make the tax deferral permanent, effectively turning the deferral into a tax cut. Following the president’s executive orders and comments, administration officials said that Trump meant that this one-off deferral would be forgiven, effectively turning it into a tax cut.

Key problems with the tax deferral

Trump’s executive order to defer Social Security taxes leaves many issues unsolved, and it’s not clear that the tax deferral will achieve its objective of providing relief to American workers.

“First, the action is a deferral of these taxes, not an elimination of them,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “So, the bill is still due, it just isn’t due in the short-term.”

The payroll tax deferral provides relatively modest relief over an extended period of time, rather than a powerful shot in the arm all at once.

For example, in the case of a worker earning $50,000 a year, the tax deferral would amount to a short-term increase of about $1,033 over the entire four-month period. That’s about $260 per month, or less than $60 per week.

Does the tax deferral hurt Social Security?

Under Trump’s executive order Social Security taxes are deferred, not eliminated, so theoretically the move doesn’t hurt funding for the popular social program. Moreover, Trump’s executive order may not be fully implemented anyway as political reality takes hold.

However, making the deferral a permanent tax cut would be tremendously unpopular among Americans, many of whom rely on the consistent benefits to fund a portion of their retirement budgets.

Bottom line

The payroll tax deferral would not help many Americans who desperately need assistance, such as the unemployed, even as it helps many others with a modest boost in their take-home pay for now. The long-lasting concern for the impact such a tax cut would have on Social Security is yet to be seen.

To read the text of the president’s executive order, click here.

For the full text Source:

https://www.fidelity.com/insights/markets-economy/payroll-tax-deferral
https://www.bankrate.com/taxes/trump-payroll-tax-deferral-executive-order